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Forest resilience and recovery through the lens of volcanic disturbances

Project Description

Explosive volcanic eruptions represent a major natural perturbation to surrounding environments. Many volcanically active regions coincide with temperate or tropical forests, and the response of these forests to volcanic disturbances provides a natural experiment through which the controls on forest recovery and biodiversity can be investigated – thus holding general lessons for the long-term impacts and recovery potential of all forests impacted by natural and anthropogenic destruction.
Forest destruction following explosive eruptions can be extensive and spatially-variable. For example, the Chaitén (Chile) eruption in 2011 led to tree breakage and scorching within a relatively small blast zone, post-eruptive lahar burial over a larger area, and leaf damage by tephra fall across 480 km2. Similar impacts have been observed after several eruptions, broadly scaling with eruption magnitude. Because eruptions are precisely dated and effectively instantaneous, with repeat intervals on the order of hundreds of years, they offer an unparalleled opportunity to study long-term forest responses to major disturbances. By examining response and recovery following volcanic eruptions, this project will identify the factors that govern forest characteristics and function as they recover from destructive episodes.
The project will survey vegetation patterns and stand structure in areas affected by explosive eruptions in southern Chile over the past three hundred years. These encompass a range of disturbance types, likely to elicit different long-term recovery patterns. The sites cover comparable climatic and ecological environments, but with different durations since the original perturbation (thus providing a temporal control on forest response). The project will also use satellite remote sensing methods to test if vegetation density patterns can be used to extract information on spatial impacts and timescales of recovery.
Results will be analysed through ecological modelling to investigate long-term forest dynamics, particularly the role of tree mortality in governing forest characteristics. The project will test whether community recovery is deterministic (i.e. explained by standard succession dynamics) or stochastic, and evaluate the timescale for typical characteristics or an undisturbed state to be established. This project will advance the understanding of how some of our most pristine forest ecosystems function and how their ecology is impacted by destructive events.

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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